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April 3, 2007

War of the Words

O'Connor, "The Displaced Person" -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

"She began to imagine a war of words, to see the Polish words and the English words coming at each other, stalking forward, not sentences, just words, gabble gabble gabble, flung out high and shrill and stalking forward and then grappling with each other. She saw the Polish words, dirty and all-knowing and unreformed, flinging mud on the clean English words until everything was equally dirty. She saw them all piled up in a room, all the dead dirty words, theirs and hers too, piled up like the naked bodies in the newsreel" (216).

The imagery in this passage is just incredible. It is so vivid and loaded with meaning. Look at how long the sentences are. And yet they are broken up into smaller sections with all the commas. It is like O'Connor is piling them all together on top of each other just as the English and Polish words Mrs. Shortley is imagining are being piled together, just as she remembers the bodies from the newsreel. The syntax really contributes greatly to the meaning.

And the extended metaphor going on is great too, with the words of each language going to war with each other just because they can't understand each other and they are afraid of what they don't know and don't understand - this makes them threatening. This is very much what began the war that caused the Guizacs to be displaced. I find it really interesting too that O'Connor makes sure that Mrs. Shortley mentions that she sees "just words, not sentences" as if there is something missing because words are most effective in communicating meaning when they are placed together carefully in well-thought out complete sentences. But, when you are just shouting out words, especially in hatred, you are really only fueling the fire, you are not making an effort to put it out. Also, it makes me think that the words have less value than full sentences, less meaning, which is significant because they are representing the individual people that are being piled up as if they have less value than they are really worth. The Jews that were being persecuted are equated to single, low-value words, while those doing the persecuting think of themselves as equal with very meaningful and important full sentences.

Another thing that I found interesting in this passage is the part in which Mrs. Shortley mentions that the Polish words are dirty, and the English are clean, but that the mud is flung on the English words "until everything was equally dirty." This is the first time she seems to mention an equality between the two sides. Yet, they are equal in filth, equal in faults, equal in that we are all sinners. No matter how she tries to make herself seems as if she is better than the Polish immigrants, I think deep down she knows we are all just as vulnerable to sin, no matter where we come from or how we talk. Yet, she refuses to admit it; despite her name, she is certainly not short in pride. And that is her biggest flaw. Instead, she is short-sighted, unable to see the benefits of the situation past the threat that she assumes stands in front of her.

Posted by LorinSchumacher at April 3, 2007 9:32 AM


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